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1997 Mercedes Championships Preview


The Mercedes Championship opens the 1997 PGA Tour season. Thirty two players will play the La Costa Resort & Spa hybrid golf course for a purse of $1.2 million. There is no cut after 36 holes, so even the player finishing in the last spot will earn a paycheck -- $16,212. The winner takes home $216,000. The field is composed of players who were winners of PGA Tour sanctioned tournaments of 1996. Thirteen of them are first-time winners. Two of the first time winners, or first time Mercedes Championships qualifiers, won twice -- S. Stricker and T. Woods. Half of the field make its residence in either Florida or Texas.

Last year eight players won more than once. Phil Mickelson won four times, Mark Brooks won three times, and Tom Lehman, Mark O'Meara, Loren Roberts, Steve Stricker, and Tiger Woods each won twice. The two "TW" and former Stanford students, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods, are the oldest and youngest members of this week's field at 47 and 21 years old, respectively.

Tom Watson won this tournament in three previous occasions: 1979, 1980, and 1984 and last time he played in this event was in 1988. Other previous champions in this year's field are 1996 U.S Open Champion Steve Jones (1989), Phil Mickelson (1994), Davis Love III (1993), and defending champion Mark O'Meara. The only qualifying player who will not play this year is Greg Norman, winner at the Doral-Ryder Open last season. He is recovering from winning one million dollars last week and will be taking two months off. He will rejoin the Tour at the start of the East Coast "swing".

The course is an hybrid of holes from the North and South courses. The front nine is composed of holes 1-3, and 13-18 of the North course, and the back nine includes holes 10-18 of the South course. The overall length is 7022 yards. It's mostly a tree-lined course, with water in five of the holes. The last three holes provide for dramatic finishes. The 16th and 18th holes are par-4 of 423 and 421 yards, respectively. They "sandwich" the 17th hole, a narrow par-5 of 569 yards. The difficulty is that all three play into the prevailing strong afternoon sea breeze. The 17th hole has water all along its right side, and high rough on the left. The key to this hole is the placement of the second shot.

The weather forecast indicates "Santa Ana" conditions for the next few days. This means clear, sunny skies with rather strong winds during the day, and chilly nights. The "wind chill" factor during the tournament is expected to be in the 70's. Given these conditions, the winner will probably be a long and straight hitter who plays well in windy conditions.

The La Costa Resort and Spa is located in Carlsbad, about 30 miles north of San Diego, California.